Too many signs suggested that this Hall of Fame caliber roster would self-destruct well before the never-ending litany of injuries and competing agendas.
Lakers forward Pau Gasol traces it all the way back to the beginning of training camp last season, seeing the ominous signals that a disaster awaited. The Lakers met an 0-8 preseason start with shrugs because, well, who cares about the preseason? The Lakers shrugged off a poor start because it’s a long year. Until the Lakers front office suggested otherwise, firing Mike Brown following a 1-4 start and hiring a coach in Mike D’Antoni that has nearly opposite principles on offense and defense.
“It’s very rare in a preseason not to win a game,” Gasol said. “That was definitely a big alarm there. We knew something wasn’t clicking or working for whatever reason.”
The problems worsened.
Steve Nash suffered a broken leg that kept him out for seven weeks. Dwight Howard played all season with an surgically repaired back. Pau Gasol played out of position as a facilitator. Kobe Bryant’s miraculous play soon crashed in mid-April once he suffered a season-ending torn left Achilles tendon.
Gasol brought up last year’s head-scratching training camp as evidence that things are much better this season. Yes, the Lakers enter tonight’s season opener against the Clippers at Staples Center with plenty of questions. When will Bryant return? Can Nash stay healthy? How do the Lakers compensate on defense from the departures of Howard (bolted to Houston) and Metta World Peace (joined New York after being waived). But with the Lakers finishing training camp with a 4-4 record, they’re clinging that their good preseason vibes could at least mitigate some of the challenges ahead.
“This preseason has been much more positive last year and we’ve done things a lot more positive and better,” Gasol said. “The attitude of players and the togetherness of the team has been really positive now. Let’s see if it’s a big factor for us.”
The general public remains skeptical, with ESPN ranking them 12th out of 15 Western Conference teams. For once, the Lakers are embracing becoming an afterthought both in the NBA and in Los Angeles. Lakers guard Steve Nash also noticed several fans simply ask him how far they can go this season, as opposed to last season when they joyfully talked about the Lakers winning their 17th NBA championship to tie the Boston Celtics.
“We have a lot of guys who in many ways have been written off,” Lakers guard Steve Nash said. “Some see me as at the end of the road. You see a lot of guys who couldn’t last in certain situations or were let go or bounced around from team to team. For us, it’s about trying to find a way to play together, create an identity and make each other better and play with a chip on our shoulder and find that little extra between us.
“I’ve always been an underdog in some respects. It’s not that much different for me. It’s an approach I’ve always had. The Lakers had teams during stretches where they hadn’t been great. It’s a cyclical league. The only thing about the Lakers is they don’t stay at the bottom very long.”
Will the Lakers stay at the bottom this season or manage to rebound throughout the season. With the Lakers’ experiencing positive vibes during training camp, they remain convinced the latter scenario will happen.
“Our expectations are play better than what everybody thinks you can play and be a unit and win more games than they think you can win,” D’Antoni said. “How that translates? We’ll see. You never know how good guys are. They become famous we’ll win. We have to win because they’re not famous yet.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org